Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019

Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019

The Briefing

February 20, 2019

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

It’s Wednesday, February 20, 2019. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

How France's National Assembly is changing the way its citizens talk about parenthood, and is redefining the family in the process

God made human beings as rational beings. We have a capacity of thinking, a certain even structure of logic. This not just something human beings have developed or discovered, it’s a part of how God made us. We also understand that given the fall, human beings are not always as rational as we should be. Given the effects of sin, we do not sometimes see the obvious. There are all kinds of problems with the way we think. But over time that basic rationality tends to work its way out, which is to say in another way, we eventually over time do become rather consistent in what we believe and what we do. Eventually societies work the same way.

Consider this headline that came this week from France, Newsweek reports, “Mother and father replaced with parent one and parent two in French schools under same-sex amendment.” Calum Paton is the reporter. “France’s National Assembly has voted in favor of an amendment removing the terms mother and father from forms in the nation schools. Instead using the terms parent one and parent two.” The reporter goes on to tell us, “The amendment which passed into law alongside a new school bill Tuesday has been seen by France’s majority party as a necessary step to bring France’s schools into line with the European Nations 2013 same-sex marriage law.” Now again, think of that rationality, that logic, that consistency, the inevitability of A leading to B, how it shows up here.

In 2013, France adopted a same-sex marriage law. A law legalizing same-sex marriage, but it wasn’t totally consistent. From 2013 until yesterday France in its school forms had the listing, not a parent one and parent two but of mother and father. Why? Because in any age of French history imaginable, mother and father would have been absolutely natural, unquestioned. It would have been exactly what anyone would have expected to find on a form to be filled out on behalf of the school children of France. But not after 2013 not if France is going to be consistent. Because if you legalize same-sex marriage and then you create the opportunity for legal same-sex adoption and all the rest, then you eventually come up with a necessity of either just referring to any two people as mother and father or deciding that logical consistency means that you have to redefine as parent one and parent two. Yesterday that’s what the French assembly decided to do.

But this act though totally consistent with France’s same-sex marriage law adopted in 2013 has not gone over in France without controversy. Why? Because even as it is logically consistent with the same-sex marriage law, the majority of families in France, 95% Newsweek tells us are made up of children with mothers and fathers. There’s no need for changing the form to parent one and parent two. Furthermore, even in France there is the realization this isn’t morally speaking a small change. This is a huge change. This is an exchange of one system of morality for another. This is the redefinition of the family, and here’s where something else becomes very interesting. Even as France is notoriously liberal on many social and moral issues, that reputation is largely because of French cities. Paris, most importantly.

Going back to the middle of the 19th century, Paris began to develop the reputation as a cosmopolitan, morally liberal place, a city of lights. It was also a city of sexual experimentation and moral permissiveness. But that has never been true in general terms of the entire French nation, especially of the more rural areas of France. One lawmaker in France responded to the new law re-designating parents as parent one and parent two as a fantasy. As Newsweek says, “He added that he felt the negotiation of gender would deconstruct the balance of society.” Of course he’s right. And of course that is, at least in some part, the intention of the moral revolutionaries made very evident in this new legislation adopted yesterday in France.

Language really matters. That’s why all of the language on these official forms really matters. That’s why the moral revolutionaries have insisted that the language be changed in order to accommodate the revolutionary agenda. This is why the language is so controversial in so many different settings and it’s also why when you go to fill out a form these days, you are likely to be faced with abundant evidence that some kind of revolution has indeed taken place, is taking place. Because for one thing, when you consider the spectrum of options available in 2019 you could count on this, the revolution hasn’t ended. There will be additional options, no doubt coming shortly. Some of those options unthinkable even in 2019. But in the future, the fairly short future, they’re not likely to be unthinkable, they’re likely to be real.

But Christians looking at this law passed yesterday by the French National Assembly have to do so with a measure of honest heartbreak. We are looking at the most basic structure of society being demolished, redefined, out of existence in so many ways, at least in bureaucratic France and its forms, the family as a mother and a father with children has disappeared merely becoming now parent one and parent two. That’s no small thing. The language not only matters sending a moral signal, it matters even in the way the family is now envisioned. When you look at a biblical worldview, what becomes so abundantly clear is that the family arrives so early in God’s promise and in God’s plan.

By the time you come to the end of Genesis two when we are told that it is for this reason that a man shall leave his mother and father and shall cleave to his wife and they shall become one flesh. There’s the establishment of the natural family beginning in the conjugal union of a man and a woman. A union that brings about the gift of children. Children that are received as divine gifts. Children that are not to look to their parents coming from this natural family as merely parent one and parent two, but as father and his mother without embarrassment, simply as natural.

When you begin to take all of this apart, you’re not just redefining parenthood. You’re not just redefining marriage. Going back to France’s same-sex marriage law in 2013, you’re not just even redefining the most basic unit of society. You’re doing your very best to redefine humanity. Some are honest about this, some are less honest about this. But when you look at this news story coming out of France, this isn’t just the revision of a form. It is an attempted revision of humanity. A rebellious humanity saying that we know better than the creator what is good for us. How we should even refer to parents in a family or what is now redefined as the family. With mother and father now antique artifacts in France, even though they represent 95% of French families. Instead it is now parent one and parent two thanks to the action of the French National Assembly just yesterday.

One interesting aspect of this is that many people have focused on the change of the word mother and father merely to parent. But there’s another interesting development here, one that points to something likely to be a part of the future. Here you have parent one and parent two. The number’s important. It won’t end with two. How long is it before we have parent three and parent four and so it goes.

Part II

“A person’s a person, no matter how small” even when that person is a frozen human embryo

But next, as we’re thinking about the redefinition of the family, it’s also interesting to look at the coverage in the New York Times on Monday of embryo adoptions and what the New York Times sees as controversial in the practice.

Caroline Lester wrote an article entitled “Embryo Adoption.” Adoption put in quotation marks, gets mired in abortion debate. She begins the story pointing to Evangelical Christians, Paul and Susan Lim, who, “Believed that life begins at conception. So when they decided to have a third child in vitro fertilization was out of the question since the process often yields extra embryos.” Now I have written about this and spoken about it widely. It is not medically necessary that multiple embryos be created that will be considered surplus, not eventually transferred into the mother’s womb. But it is nonetheless standard medical practice because it is declared to increase the likelihood of success and it also, we are told reduces the net costs, the likelihood that any given transfer will eventually lead to a successful pregnancy.

But this does mean that all across America we have human persons, human beings, embryonic in a frozen state and likely to be so until they are destroyed or they decay. It is evidence of the fact that we are dehumanizing humanity to the extent that most Americans go around their day without the realization that there are between 600,000 and 1 million so-called surplus human embryos frozen somewhere in American fertility clinics and laboratories, between 600,000 and 1 million.

Now, the news article has to do with the fact that there are evangelical Christians who have decided that they will adopt these already existing frozen embryos in order to bring the child to life and to become parents or to add to the number of children by adopting these frozen embryos often in the form of what are described as snowflake adoptions. But the worldview implications of the article are massive. For example, later in the article Kimberly Tyson, Marketing and Program Director at Snowflake Embryo Adoption in Loveland, Colorado, “The issue in the medical community is that by calling it adoption we give too much personhood to the embryo.” Fascinating.

We are told that by using the word adoption, those who are behind these kind of snowflake adoptions are actually giving too much personhood, acknowledging too much personhood in the embryo. We need to turn that on its head and recognize that what we really are facing is the fact that so many who are committed to the destruction of human life in the womb or in the laboratory are doing everything they can to dehumanize the embryo, to deny its personhood and to do whatever is possible to make sure that the vocabulary, here we’re back to words again, would be consistent with the dehumanization of the embryo.

But when you have couples wanting to adopt these embryos, they do not think of the embryos merely as embryos but as children yet to be fully formed and born. And so the word in every sense appears to be right and by a Christian biblical worldview is right in using the word adoption because we actually do want to point to the personhood of the embryo. But not just to the personhood of the embryos that are adopted, but to the personhood of the between 600,000 and 1 million that still are in some form of frozen state.

In the next paragraph, Kimberly Tyson goes on to say “As Christians, of course we believe they’re persons.” They are persons and thus the word adoption is exactly the right word. But here you have the New York Times pointing to the fact that if you use the word adoption in this context, you have created a controversy. You have created a controversy with the people who do not want to acknowledge the personhood of that embryo in any way, over that matter as we have seen, the personhood of any unborn child at any stage during pregnancy and thus they do not want the language adoption. It’s just to morally powerful.

But there’s another complaint within the article and that is this. When you look at the organizations that are bringing about organizing, facilitating these adoptions, they tend to be affiliated with Evangelical Christianity. That is, they tend to be driven by a biblical Christian worldview and we understand that also. That is perfectly consistent with what we would expect. But then we simply have to note that that very fact brings the complaint. The complaint that we see in so many other cases. The complaint we see coming from the LGBTQ community against Christian adoption agencies and foster care agencies. Agencies that by conviction will place children only with Christian parents who meet their expectation and analysis of what a Christian parent, a Christian home should be.

And thus as we see, there is no limitation on others who become foster care and adoption organizations. There is no limitation upon other organizations based upon other worldviews that would facilitate embryo adoption. There’s nothing to prevent a non-Christian, non-evangelical organization from doing so. And there is nothing to prevent a non-Christian organization applying for federal kinds of support and other kinds of social support for this kind of enterprise. But then you have to back up and say it’s not a coincidence that most of these organizations are clearly evangelical, that they are clearly pro-life. Because the very sentiment, the very moral conviction, the very affirmation of the personhood and the value of these embryos and the fact that it is a good and righteous thing to adopt them, that they are indeed human beings, human person’s deserving of the recognition of full respect, that’s coming from a Christian worldview.

And that’s very telling that that becomes the very stumbling block. That becomes the very issue of offense. And once again, we come to understand how increasingly lonely it becomes to be evangelical Christians in an increasingly secular America. Lester tells us something about the numbers. Of 2 million transfers of embryos to a woman’s uterus recorded by the Centers for disease control from 2000 to 2016 only 16,000 were donor embryos. But over that period the annual number of donor transfers rose sharply from 334 in 2000 to 1,940 in 2016.” And she says, “Experts say is continuing to increase.”

Now what’s important about those numbers is the fact that the increase here is almost entirely attributed to the adoption of these snowflake babies. These frozen embryos that are being adopted by those who are overwhelmingly Christian, Christian couples in particular. The opposition to this Christian involvement in these snowflake adoptions was made very clear when one doctor cited in the article said, “Most of the IVF facilities are really not thrilled with faith based organizations.” He went on according to the times to argue that the government should look a little more closely at the program and “Potentially change the selection criteria for the grants.”

Looking at the deeper worldview implications, I want to go back to Kimberly Tyson again. She’s the Marketing and Program Director at Snowflake Embryo Adoption in Loveland, Colorado. It was she who said, “As Christians, of course we believe they’re persons,” speaking of the frozen embryos. But she went on to explain “For the reproductive medical community, if you bestow humanity to the nascent human embryo, you’re interfering with other services that they like very much.” Now, what would she be referring to there?

Most importantly, it is abortion. The moment that there would be any acknowledgement of the personhood of the frozen embryo, then very clearly it would also be a very powerful affirmation of the personhood of any unborn child in a mother’s womb. And there you see how the pro-abortion mentality simply cannot abide any acknowledgment of any possible personhood of an unborn human being at any stage of development from fertilization and the status of being an embryo all the way until late term abortion, right up until the moment a child is born.

When we understand this, an entire series of dark headlines from recent weeks will begin to make more sense, and furthermore we’ll understand how the dots are inevitably connected. But this reminds me of reading Dr. Seuss books with our children and remembering that story Horton Hears a Who! about the elephant who hears that tiny little voice and comes to the moral conclusion, a person’s a person, no matter how small. And this is where Christians want to affirm that in every conceivable way and just point out that Horton was more right than he knew. A person’s a person, no matter how small, even when that person is a frozen human embryo. And even when the secular world around us wants to deny specifically that that person is a person.

Part III

Congress wants to keep ‘God’ in daily prayers: What this tells us about politics, atheism, and American history

But finally, today as we’re thinking about acts of government, Paul Bedard reporting for the Washington Examiner gives us a story entitled “Amen: Congress moves to keep ‘God’ in daily prayer and thwart atheist movement.” Bedard writes “The Amen Chorus in Congress has been around unofficially since the continental Congress in 1774 and officially in the house and Senate since 1789 when both chambers named chaplains to open each session with a short prayer.” It is interesting, by the way, that back in 1789 after the ratification of the constitution, both chambers of the United States Congress did indeed name chaplains and require them to pray at the opening of every session. To pray however, in a way that was relatively short, but nonetheless a prayer and specifically atheistic prayer and not only that, going back to 1789 unquestionably a Christian prayer.

But of course these days that runs right into the headwinds of an increasingly vehement atheism and secularism demanding a seat at the table or you might say a prayer at the congressional podium. The interesting thing about this Washington Examiner article is that the leadership in the house and in the Senate of both major political parties isn’t ready to do anything quite so radical as that. Now, when you look at the two parties, they’re not in the same place. The Democratic Party is increasingly secular and liberal and frankly the party’s fairly proud of both of those appellations. But it is also interesting that Democrats want to get re-elected and they understand that sending a signal to the American people that they are against prayer, theistic prayer, prayer with reference to God, prayer that calls itself prayer is a step too far.

At least at this point the congressional leadership in both chambers of both parties wants to maintain the practice to defend both the house and the Senate having chaplains, chaplains who pray and guest chaplains who were invited and given the honor of praying but are expected still to make reference to God and to call whatever they do a prayer. Again, this is raising all kinds of hackles amongst the secularists, agnostic and atheist organized communities. There have been lawsuits filed repeatedly in recent decades trying to get the supreme court to rule that the very existence of chaplains is unconstitutional. Of course that flies in the face of the fact that in 1789 one of the first acts of the house in the Senate after the constitution was ratified, was to adopt the office of chaplain and to assign those chaplains responsibility.

The very people who were elected the very first time under the constitution, including many of the people who framed the constitution clearly saw absolutely nothing unconstitutional to say the least about having chaplains. But of course we’re living in a different age where for many people the text and the historical context of the constitution really isn’t supposed to have anything to do with interpreting the constitution. Instead, we are told by those who believe in a so called living constitution that we are to make the constitution’s words ratified in 1789 mean we want them to mean now.

Bedard points to the fact that it’s not just the house and the Senate defending the existence of chaplains, it’s also the United States military. But when he deals with congressional chaplains specifically, he gives us some very interesting recent information. “Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California and other House and Senate leaders want to keep it that way.” That means a chaplain praying a prayer and referencing God, “Amid a drive to let atheists and agnostics get a toe hold on the tradition of having guests chaplains give the daily prayer.” But here we encounter something really interesting that isn’t at the forefront of Bedard’s article and that is this.

When you look at the policies of the house and the Senate historically and even in recent times, the qualifications of those who would serve as a guest Chaplin basically comes down to the fact that they are to be recognized as holding the equivalent of ordination in whatever religious body they represent, that’s clearly a problem for atheists because they don’t have a religious body, they don’t ordain anyone. There is nothing analogous to ordination and thus they complain they are unconstitutionally prevented from having their leaders or representatives serve as guest chaplains in the house and in the Senate.

The really interesting thing in this article that appeared in the Washington Examiner is that in Congress there’s no real effort whatsoever to try to come up with a way for atheists and agnostics and other secular groups to be included in the prayers offered to Congress or in the guest chaplaincy. And there we arrive at something else interesting in this article and it comes in a word from a rabbi. Rabbi Arnold E. Resnicoff who we are told has guest prayed to the house and the Senate 13 times the most of any rabbi in history. He explained newly adopted rules. “Now you submit your prayer and advance. And if you don’t mention God,” God’s put in quotation marks, “they encourage you to add it because there’s a big movement by the atheists and agnostics to have people to pray who are not ordained and the house and the Senate are fighting it. So they want to make sure this is religious prayer.

We’re also told that the rabbi is a retired Navy Chaplain. He went on to say “Our military is fighting it and congress is fighting it. So as a result of that, when they give you the rules, they want you to make it a religious prayer, not a generic prayer.” Rabbi Resnicoff also gave us the interesting information that tells us that both the house and the Senate are so concerned to begin the ceremonial proceedings opening every day that they have a backup prayer in case a guest Chaplain and the regular full time Chaplain is not present, they have a backup prayer in order to pray because they’re not going to begin the session without prayer.

Now there’s a lot to consider here. We could talk about the implausibility of generic prayer addressed to the great someone out there, whoever you are. We could about the oxymoronic contradictory notion of an atheist prayer or a secular prayer. But we also need to note that it tells us something that when you look at the United States Congress, not just for political impact, because they could get away with not having prayer some days without it being very controversial. But I think because there is the acknowledgement that there is no understanding of the American people and of American history and even of the importance of American constitutional government without acknowledging as many of our founding documents acknowledge that we are indeed made by a creator who rules over the universe who’s providence we pray will be benevolent to us and to the nation and whose presence even in a secular age tends to come through. Even in a news story like this. Even in new rules about prayer for guests chaplains before the United States House and the United States Senate.

I thought it was just absolutely interesting that we are told in this new story in the authority of the rabbi who has prayed more than any other rabbi before the United States Congress that now when you submit your prayer in advance if you don’t mention God, they encourage you to add it. If nothing else, that at least tells us that in these new rules there is still the residue of a theological knowledge. The fact that it exists in policy of the United States Congress in 2019 really does tell us something.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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